Biden’s Climate Emergency: Will He Declare It?

Yves here. Tom Neuburger, along with other voices, is trying to amplify the growing pressure for Biden to follow through on an idea he broached last week, of declaring a climate emergency as a way to take more muscular action to deal with still-rising greenhouse gas levels. Neuburger contends that this move would help turn around Biden’s flagging popularity.

As much as I agree that the US very much needs to Do Something, color me skeptical.

First, presidents in general and Biden in particular have an unfortunate tendency to promise big and not deliver. For Obama, remember his pledge to close Gitmo as his first act in office? To raise the minimum wage? Biden promised to beat the virus with a wartime-level effort. Was Biden thinking perhaps of the War of Jenkin’s Ear?

Second, I suspect even if invoked, trying to use “climate emergency” authority will produce more controversy and lawsuits than results. A letter from a group of Senators presses Biden to invoke the National Emergency Act as the basis for authority to engage in wide-ranging climate change mitigation activities.

However, if you look at past declarations of the National Emergency Act, they were overwhelmingly for foreign policy matters, like Prohibiting the Importation of Rough Diamonds from Sierra Leone and Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Burundi. The most recent was Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Nicaragua in 2018.

The very few domestic US examples were usually narrow, such as To Suspend Subchapter IV of Chapter 31 of Title 40, United States Code, Within a Limited Geographic Area in Response to the National Emergency Caused by Hurricane Katrina or one related to the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009. The glaring “this one is not the same as the others” is Declaration of National Emergency by Reason of Certain Terrorist Attacks on 9/14/2001.

Thus it looks as if the Biden Administration would face numerous legal challenges: for the invocation of the Act at all (the past emergencies were well defined’; “climate emergency” is not), for the high odds that restrictions imposed on businesses would arguably rise to the level of Fifth Amendment takings and the affected parties would demand compensation, and over the question of budgetary authority.

Third, Manchin looks to have saved Biden’s “climate emergency” bacon. From Ryan Grim in A Manchin Miracle?

The West Virginia coal baron has stunned Washington and struck a serious climate deal with Chuck Schumer….

The outline of the deal, as announced by the pair, looks like this:

That $369 billion for “energy security and climate change,” if it becomes law, will change the world. It represents the biggest climate investment made by any country ever, and it will unlock potentially trillions in private capital, which is waiting on the sidelines for the types of subsidies, credits and guarantees this bill will include. It’ll also spur other countries to make their own investments, not wanting to fall behind in the industry that will dominate the next century. It’s projected to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2030 by 40 percent. That’s huge.

Let’s put on our “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” hat. One problem is the funding side. Grim thinks the $14 billion from private equity will be the most vulnerable part. Um, no, it’s the “prescription drug pricing reform”. The health care industry, year in and year out except for right after the crisis, has the biggest, best funded lobbying effort. Pfizer has just gotten even richer on Covid vaccines. They alone could do a lot to undermine this provision. It isn’t just a matter of the immediate (large) amounts at issue. Pharma no way, no how wants the precedent of negotiated drug prices to be set in the US. They will go to the mat to try to stop it.

Problem two is timing. This is a 700 page bill. Let’s assume the House passes a somewhat different version. Then it has to go to reconciliation. Think those fake Democrats and diehard Republicans might not find a way to drag out the process so it won’t come to a vote in the current Congress?

Fourth, Neuburger takes it as a given that such a forward-thinking, decisive action would reverse Biden’s flagging poll numbers. Sadly, stereotypically instant-gratification Americans, per a fresh New York Times poll, don’t regard battling climate change as a top priority, which is the level of commitment you need to get widespread changes implemented. Only 1% of respondents rated it as the top issue and even among Democrats, only 3%.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

“This is an emergency. And I will look at it that way. I’ll use my executive powers to combat climate — the climate crisis in the absence of congressional actions.”
—President Joe Biden, July 20, 2022

Rumors are flying that President Biden is on the verge of declaring a “climate emergency.” Both the leftie press and the right-wing media organs are “all a-twit,” as the great W.C. Fields once said about Mae West (script primarily by Mae West, by the way).

What has set the twits a-twittering and a-Tweeting is a July 20 speech by Biden, in which he said in part:

Climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world.

So my message today is this: Since Congress is not acting as it should — and these guys here are, but we’re not getting many Republican votes — this is an emergency. An emergency. And I will — I will look at it that way. I said last week and I’ll say it again loud and clear: As President, I’ll use my executive powers to combat climate — the climate crisis in the absence of congressional actions, notwithstanding their incredible action. (Applause.) In the coming days, my administration will announce the executive actions we have developed to combat this emergency. We need to act. (emphasis added)

On July 24, “U.S. climate envoy” John Kerry reiterated the President’s position.

As you can imagine, this opens quite a door and more than a few mouths. Heritage, of course, weighed in, fighting tooth and nail to brand the measure “radical” as well as “costly and ineffective.” The rest of the right-wing world is similarly exercised, because “freedom,” of course (meaning, “fossil fuel billionaire profits”).

The View from the Left

The leftie world, the part not tied to Big Money, is all in favor. In fact, that world is saying, “C’mon, already. Do it.”


    1. Randall Flagg

      Carlin was an absolute genius and is sorely missed right now!
      If you have the chance to catch HBO’s recent 2 part documentary on him it’s well worth it. The clip referenced by Clarky90 was in it as well as Carlin’s rage out clip about Mother Earth fighting back with… Viruses. In 1992. Apologies for not providing the link. I can only imagine the clarity he would be providing now of the absurdity
      running wild in this world.

  1. Another Scott

    To me, the calls for Biden to call a National Emergency for Climate Change are the embodiment of the Democrats’ policy approach: introduce some bill for a favored policy, try half-heartedly to pass it, complain when it doesn’t pass, stretch executive authority to implement some of their goals, complain if it’s struck down by the courts.

    This party is completely uninterested in governing, that is making policy choices and compromises needed to get the votes to pass, and in situations where they have the votes, they allow the party leaders in the House/Senate to weaken/kill bills that their donors don’t like.

    This party as a whole doesn’t seem to have any respect for the rule of law or democracy. Not that the Republicans are any better, but I don’t hear the same level of self-righteousness from them.

    1. Dr. John Carpenter

      The point of him saying this outloud is to a) appear he’s doing something and b) alert the rotating villans and Republicans to shoot it down.

  2. chris

    Is it too much to ask that we stop governing by executive decree and have a legislature perform it’s job? I don’t think all the executive orders and emergencies are good. I don’t like that Congress keeps getting off the hook. The more we rely on this process the less action we get.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The purpose of a system is what it does.

      The Congress is doing exactly the job which its campaign donors and after-leaving-office sinecure-providers are paying it to do.

      Global-dewarmer-wannabes can keep wasting their time and attention and energy on a Congress designed to “roach-motel” every bit of their time and energy. Or they can find some other critical pain-points within the system and inflict so much torture on those pain points that the system is tortured into permitting some global de-warming. John Robb at Global Guerillas has talked about some of these things.

      And as noted, any emergency Biden declares will be deliberately deceit-based and performative and distractive. It will be designed to distract the attention of global dewarmer wannabes away from looking for the Global Guerillas style pain and torture points which can make the system respond if enough of the right kind of pain and torture can be applied to those critical points.

  3. Randall Flagg

    Apologies for that last comment and wasting moderators time , got my Carlin clips mixed up, he did mention viruses in that clip at the end of the one referenced above.

  4. c_heale

    Has Biden even visited the West Coast to see all the fires? And maybe Lake Mead, too?

  5. flora

    Erm… just how many emergencies does Biden declare heading into the midterms. We already have 3 declared, maybe 4 by my count.

  6. Solarjay

    Even if this bill passes as it’s written.
    It is just like the recent gun bill, basically worthless except for marketing.

    This not any different. $369 billion over 10 years, $36 billion a year is just crumbs on the couch. Sure I’m
    Glad there is something, but my concern is that the corporate Dems now get force a silence on any more talk of doing anything more about climate action

    Maybe I’m wrong maybe there are some truly incredible Inovative parts to the legislation. But as a dollar amount it’s just a drop in the bucket.

    It’s like the drug part: it will start in 2025/6, and then do a woping 10-15 drugs per year for a few years for like 50 total?
    They really do think we are stupid.

    I’ll wait for the review by the podcast congressional dish. She is amazing.

    1. Bart Hansen

      There is very little info on the drug deal. No words on the list of 20 drugs, and I saw that it the laddering would last until 2029. Nothing on dealing with orphan drugs or insulin.

    2. Grumpy Engineer

      $369 billion over 10 years, $36 billion a year is just crumbs on the couch.

      I agree. For grins and giggles, I looked up the Energy Security and Climate Change Summary and ran some numbers:

      $30 billion in production tax credits is enough to pay for ~20 GW of solar & wind facilities, which is enough to meet about 4% of average US electrical demand when weather conditions are favorable. Once utilization factors are taken into account, this drops closer to 2%.

      $9 billion in consumer home energy rebate programs, focused on low-income consumers, works out to to about $150 per low-income household. You’re not going to pay for many high-efficiency geothermal heat pump systems (which typically cost $20k to install) that way.

      They don’t list any caps or expected utilization rate on the car tax credits, but if they truly wish for 40% of of the 15 million new cars that are sold every year to be “clean” (per the stated goal of “putting the U.S. on a path to roughly 40% emissions reduction by 2030”), it works out to $45 billion per year just for the credits. Needless to say, a bill which will spend in total $36 billion per year cannot cover this kind of subsidy.

      Personally, I think it would take at least $5 trillion to mostly decarbonize the US economy, and I can only get a number that small with some (ahem) highly optimistic assumptions. $369 billion over 10 years is indeed “crumbs on the couch”.

  7. orlbucfan

    I’ll believe it when I see it in terms of doing anything about international climate catastrophe. Carlin was awarded the Mark Twain Award post-death. It should have been done before Carlin died. Twain, himself, would have given GC that award.

  8. shinola

    Wow! The cynicism in comments, so far, is palpable. Unfortunately, it is also completely understandable…

  9. Susan the other

    Declaring a state of emergency is a no-brainer. Declare it. There is an army of people with the expertise to organize this into significant meaningful measures of climate (and social) remediation. All Joe has to do is declare it. He’ll go down in history.

  10. sharonsj

    I have no faith that our government, be it Democrats or Republicans, will do anything substantive. Most of my friends my age say we’re happy we won’t live long enough to see how bad it gets.

    1. John Zelnicker

      I’m at that age, too. But seeing how fast the problems are accelerating, we may still be here to see some of the catastrophic results.

  11. Anthony G Stegman

    Biden can handle only one emergency at a time. Right now he is dealing with the Ukraine Emergency. Manchin, Pelosi, and Schumer are all in on that one.

  12. anon in so cal

    Can Biden declare a “climate emergency” with a straight face after opening “80 million acres of Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas leasing…largest offshore lease sale in US history.”

    “..the Biden administration’s Interior Department is holding Lease Sale 257. The sale will offer over 80 million acres of public waters to the oil and gas industry, making it the largest offshore lease sale in U.S. history. The lease sale will allow for new fossil fuel extraction over the next 50 years and will magnify greenhouse gas emissions worldwide…”

    Or shipping LNG to the EU?

    “The Environmental Integrity Project said building or expanding a proposed 25 LNG terminals in the US could produce more than 90 million mt of greenhouse gas emissions per year, basing its estimate on a review of state regulatory permits. Market constraints such as limited global demand make it unlikely that every proposed project in the US would get built. The environmental group estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from LNG export facilities in 2021 were about 18 million mt. The estimates did not include upstream or downstream emissions, the report said.”

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I heard on the news recently that ” drill baby drill all over the Gulf of Mexico” is being spun as the price that Biden “had” to “pay” to get the Evil Manchin to go along with Build Back Bitter Lite.

      Yeah . . . okay.

  13. Paul P

    Climate Change and the Collapse of Civilization Decade by Decade Unitl
    2070. YouTube.

    This guy is great. Generally I stick with the scientists.
    He quotes from the AR6. Very convincing in fleshing out
    that life will not be the same.

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